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What is Phlebitis?

Phlebitis is a potentially serious condition that affects the circulation in the legs. It can put you at risk for dangerous medical problems if left untreated. There are a variety of potential causes for phlebitis, and some types are more serious than others. What more should you know about phlebitis? 

What Is Phlebitis?

Phlebitis refers to vein inflammation, which typically occurs in the legs. The most common form affects superficial veins or small veins near the skin’s surface. 

When learning about phlebitis, the cause is an important consideration. The most severe potential reason is a blood clot. The clot triggers an inflammatory response, which leads to inflammation in the vein and surrounding tissue. When a blood clot forms, it will likely block blood flow in one or more veins, as well. 

There are two primary risks with a blood clot. First, it affects the circulation in the legs. More importantly, though, a piece of the clot could break off and block circulation to more critical parts of the body, including the brain and heart. A blood clot near the heart may trigger a heart attack. Clots that affect veins in or near the brain lead to a stroke. 

What Else Can Cause Phlebitis? 

Although a blood clot is the most concerning cause of phlebitis, there are other possibilities. Excessive straining of the leg veins can cause phlebitis, for example. This is a typical occurrence in persons who have varicose veins, in which the veins have become excessively engorged and dilated.

Other forms of trauma may cause inflammation, too. An accident with bruising around a vein can lead to phlebitis. Often, people who get phlebitis don’t know what caused it unless it is a detectable blood clot. 

What Are the Symptoms of Phlebitis?

When there is phlebitis in superficial veins, frequent symptoms include discomfort, tenderness, reddish skin discoloration, and warmth/heat from the skin. Deep vein phlebitis symptoms include agonizing pain, throbbing, leg heaviness, and edema.

Deep vein thrombosis can occur without causing severe discomfort. Leg/ankle edema may be the only evidence of a deep vein blood clot in this case.  

What Are the Risk Factors for Phlebitis? 

Some common risk factors include:

  • Sedentary behavior for extended periods (for example, a long plane ride or car ride), obesity, smoking
  • Estrogen-containing medications (including oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy
  • Clotting disorders (which may predispose to easy clotting)
  • Externally visible varicose veins 
  • Trauma to a varicose vein (for example, if your leg knocks into the dishwasher) 
  • Cancer

Another possible risk factor is venous reflux or venous insufficiency. 

What is Venous Reflux? 

Veins have one-way valves that open and close, allowing blood to flow against gravity towards the heart. If these valves have damage and do not fully seal, blood can flow with gravity, creating reflux and limiting blood circulation. Blocked or congested veins can also hamper blood flow returning from the heart.

Venous reflux occurs when the saphenous vein valves become damaged or obstructed. These veins go up and down the leg, returning blood to the heart from the foot, shins, and thighs.

The risk of phlebitis is one reason it is vital that you get treatment for venous insufficiency and varicose veins. Some of the standard treatments include ClosureFast, VenaSeal, and sclerotherapy

These vein procedures seal the bad veins closed, forcing the body to reroute the blood flow and restore leg circulation. When that happens, it will eventually absorb the useless vein. 


If you’re ready to schedule a consult at the Vein & Vascular Institute, just call 856-309-8346. During your call, we’ll help you find a great time to come by and get care for deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, or any other venous disorders affecting your life. We look forward to helping you remain in excellent health through the years, so please feel free to call today.

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